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Shapeshifter Is Cirque du Soleil Meets Rock Concert Meets Art Show Meets...

A soul in the air, The Shakers in the background
A soul in the air, The Shakers in the background
Manny Hebron

The intrigue of any shapeshifter - a creature from mythology who can change forms -  lies in that fact that you are never confident at what you are seeing, and uncertain of what you are going to see next.

The term is an apt title for the new hybrid show that opened in the Way 2 Much Entertainment Studio on May 23, and runs through May 31. Directed by Jordann Baker and produced by Brian Gillespie, Graham Skipper, Brent Kyle, and Tyler Benton, Shapeshifter: An Aerial Rock Circus alternatives between elements of acrobatics, indie music shows, avant-garde theater and dynamic art installations to create a performance piece that's different from anything currently running in Los Angeles. 

Two spirits in the air
Two spirits in the air
Manny Hebron

"When I moved out to L.A. three years ago I found myself feeling stuck creatively, and though I felt really embraced by the circus community out here, I still felt something missing from my life as a performer," said Baker during a post-performance email interview. "This show started to coalesce for me as a metaphor for creating for yourself the life you want. I wanted to feel more fulfilled as an artist, and have the opportunity to perform more, and so I created a show that fulfilled me creatively."

Graham Skipper as the ringmaster
Graham Skipper as the ringmaster
Manny Hebron

As you enter the Way 2 Much Entertainment Studio, which neighbors the Derby Dolls Warehouse, it becomes evident that this is going to be an unconventional experience. Guests are greeted by Graham Skipper, who, in his top hat and white coat, reimagines PT Barnum as styled by Haus of Gaga. Skipper serves triple duty as producer/ringmaster/husband of the director. Close at hand is Skipper's fellow producer and long time performance partner, Brian Gillespie, whose heavy black eye make up matches his form-fitting ebon ensemble. Those familiar with the duo's previous work in Re-Animator: The Musical and the New York-based sketch group FUCT should already know that when it comes to anything involving these boys, expect the unexpected.

White bird cage onto which audience members pin thoughts they wish to release
White bird cage onto which audience members pin thoughts they wish to release
Tyler Benton

At first look, the warehouse seems to have transformed in to a modern art exhibit. The space is filled with assorted platforms, a white carousel dangling from the ceiling, and a matching white bird cage. Audience members are encouraged to write down something they wish to emotionally release and pin it onto the cage - those scribblings will be symbolically cast away during the show. Guests chat with one another on white folding chairs and mill about the space sipping on Tecates.

But the room subtly morphs from casual gathering to show time as ambient music gradually increases in volume and a trio of hooded figures brandishing lanterns maneuvers its way through the crowd onto the stage. The hoods are shed, revealing the male members of the Shakers, who exchange lanterns for instruments as their lead vocalist Jodi Schell joins them on stage. The rock band, described in press materials as "AC/DC meets the Supremes," serves as Shapeshifter's live soundtrack. 

Jodi Schell of The Shakers
Jodi Schell of The Shakers
Manny Hebron

Schell, invoking a new millennium Janis Joplin vibe, acts as Shapeshifter's musical shaman, using her raspy melodies to shepherd a quartet of souls (Baker, joined by Hope Hall, Terril Teran, and Rachel Tatum) as they descend from the carousel of life and take flight into the ether by way of ropes, silks and hammocks. The show follows a loose, archetypical narrative pitting good against evil as the spirits are caught between the benevolence of the Light Bearer (Sita Acevedo) and the malevolence of Kali (Jeffrey Little). Shapeshifter's plot takes a backseat to the breathtaking physical forms undulating above the audience.

Jeffrey Little as Kali
Jeffrey Little as Kali
Manny Hebron

While the entire cast is stellar, additional accolades need to be bestowed upon Jeffrey Little. With a physique that seems chiseled by Michelangelo, Little brings a smoldering menace to Kali's aerial choreography.

Shapeshifter repeatedly blurs the line between performance and audience, as viewers are constantly repositioning themselves to better witness the aerialists or avoid the frequently moving platforms.

To Schell, it's the show's ability to change a crowd of individuals into a community that resonates most strongly with her. 

"To me, we exist to strengthen our spirit and the people we love," said Schell, front-woman for the Shakers, during an email interview. "The only way to do that is to stand up to the villains, even if it's the one inside you. And when you can't do it alone, you let your rescue team help you." 

For tickets visit shapeshifter.brownpapertickets.com.


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